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Top Holiday Scams 2021

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has listed what they feel are the most sneaky and prevalent holiday scams for 2021. Which ones have you come across before?

Deceptive Social Media Ads

Photo of knock-off nike tennis shoe

The BBB Scam Tracker receives thousands of reports each holiday from people who have purchased items from social media ads that are never delivered, come with a monthly fee they never ordered, or are cheap counterfeits (some of which could be dangerous). These ads are all over Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat and are slick/polished presentations. Before purchasing any item you see in a social media ad, check the business at or go to the manufacturer's website. Also, check reviews of the item on Amazon. Nearly everything is on Amazon and often at a lower price.

Holiday Apps

Vector art of laptop computer with santa on screen in section on how to prevent online scams targeting children

Most holiday-themed apps are designed to appeal to children and can contain lots of advertising and malware. Whether to chat with Santa, virtually light a menorah, or track Santa's sleigh, here's what you should do before downloading the app.

1. Make sure parental controls on your child's phone, tablet, and computer are active

2. Only purchase apps through Apple or Google as they review the apps for legitimacy.

3. Review the app's privacy policy to see what personal information will be collected.

4. Consider the paid apps over the free ones as there are fewer ads and a smaller risk of malware.

Social Media Gift Exchanges

Photo of woman holding holiday presents with secret sister scam type

Anyone active on Social Media has probably seen a gift exchange post this time of year for the past decade. There are many variations on this pyramid scheme, such as the "Secret Sister" gift exchange (where you send six gifts and can get 36 gifts back) or "Give a Bottle – Get a Bottle" (same concept but with wine). The "Pay It Forward" scheme asks for your email and then sends participants a "needy" stranger's name to whom they can send money. The stranger's contact information is likely the scammer's.

A newer scheme this year is called the "Secret Santa Dog Toy Exchange." In this one, participants buy a $10 gift certificate for a "secret dog" to get lots of dog toys in return.

These all sound simple but seldom work. In addition, this "pyramid" scheme is illegal. The U.S. Postal Inspection Services says it is against the law to "request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to all participants."

The BBB suggests you politely decline to participate in these sorts of requests and perhaps warn your close friends about its legality.

Compromised or Locked Account Alerts

Sample text of scam email on compromised or locked account status

Emails that say there has been suspicious activity on any account and request you to click a link and provide personal information are called "phishing" emails. They will look like emails from Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, Banks, or other credit agencies, but when you click on the sender's email, it will not look like a legitimate email.

The wise moves with these emails are not to open them, delete them, and contact the organization noted directly to see if there is genuinely an issue.

image of scam social media offer of free gift cards

Free Gift Cards

Some people see "Free" and think, "Oh boy!" Others see "free" and think, "What's the catch?" Scammers love the "Oh boy" folks. They will impersonate legitimate companies like Starbucks or Amazon and either tell you they are rewarding you as a loyal customer or say you were randomly selected as a prize winner. The problem is they are hoping you'll click the link so they can download malware or get you to fill out personal information to "receive" a card that isn't going to be mailed. If you see or get an offer, keep scrolling or mark an email as spam and delete it.

Temporary Holiday Jobs

Cartoon of holiday worker stading at counter on temporary holiday job scams

Any potential employer asking for personal information that cannot be found through a regular Google search or money upfront to apply is probably not legitimate. You should never pay to apply for a job (especially in this market) and never provide social security or driver's license information until after an interview. If a company says it won't consider hiring you without it, keep looking.

Look-Alike Websites

If you receive an email from a company with a link to its website, don't click it. The linked website may look legitimate but is instead a dummy site designed to download malware to your computer. If malware isn't the intent, letting you make what's called "dead-end" purchases (where nothing will be sent) probably is. Instead, go to the website directly through your web browser.

Graphic on fake charity asks

Fake Charities

It is hard to see families or individuals struggling, especially during the holidays, and scammers take advantage of your compassion by making impromptu donation requests that are not legitimate. Verify the organizations or people sending the requests, whether by email, mail, or phone. And, don't believe anyone who says they'll send you money if you send them money first.

Shipping Phishing

Hand holding smartphone with message on fake shipping alert scam

Scammers will send emails that look like they are coming from Amazon, FedEx, or UPS, asking for shipping verification information. They hope you will click the link and provide personal information or open the door for malware to be downloaded to your computer. If you believe you have a shipment coming or have questions about a package, contact the shipper directly through their website, never through a link in an email.

Picture of man sitting in stadium alone in section on fake virtual events scams

Fake Virtual Events

You see an event posted for a fun "Holiday Lights 5K" and know your family would enjoy participating. So you enter your credit card information to pay the entry fees but get to the location to find out there was no entry fee. Or, you read about an outdoor caroling party to benefit your local children's choir, so you buy tickets only to show up at the designated spot and the only other people there are those who answered the same ad, with no party. A scammer has taken advantage of your holiday spirit!

This type of con is hard to verify, so try to check before registering to see if you can verify a cost. Posting a question to sites like NextDoor, or messaging someone you know associated with the location or event are two ways to check.

Low Prices on Hottest Gifts

Out of stock sign in section on bait and switch scams

If you see a promotion offering a super-low price on this year's hottest gift, you are probably being scammed. High-demand items ordered through these sites are not likely shipped to you in time for the holidays, if at all.

If you can't find a gift that someone is "just dying for" this holiday, put a picture of the item in a box instead, with a promise to deliver it after the holidays when it is available again.

Pet Scams

Picture of jack russell terrier puppy in santa hat in section on pet scams

Never purchase a puppy, kitten, bird, snake, frog, hamster, gerbil, or tarantula without seeing it first. Also, get paperwork specifying care requirements, return policies, and "warranties" if available. Scammers may post a picture of a beautiful puppy you know your family will love, you pay for it online, and then find out it is not the same dog, or it has health issues. You may also have no options for a refund or return. Save yourself and your loved ones the heartache. Adopt from a pound, or purchase from a reputable breeder (


It’s easy during the holidays to get caught up in the excitement, sounds, lights, and joy, and scammers are counting on using these distractions to compel you to let down your guard. Keep your identity and wallet safe this year and take the time to verify before buying or clicking.


Source: BBB, for more information click here

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Aug 09, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Ah, the topic of 'Top Holiday Scams 2021' takes me back! Grab a coffee, because I've got a tale that might just blow your socks off. Professional lawyer paulmankin.

Last December, I was on the hunt for the perfect Christmas gift for my niece. She's a massive fan of limited-edition toys. One night, scrolling through Facebook, I stumbled upon an ad for this super rare toy she had been talking about non-stop. It was marked at a ridiculously low price. My first thought? "Jackpot!"

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